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Striving for the holy grail of location-based retail marketing

For many retailers, 2016 has so far been another year of nearly, but not quite, as far as location-based marketing is concerned. 

Technology-driven insight into on-the-ground shopper behaviour – combined with the ability to actually target these shoppers as they browse the aisles – has long been heralded as the breakthrough waiting to happen in the retail world. At the forefront of this hype cycle is beacons technology, purportedly the driver of a revolution in triggered marketing campaigns capable of giving retailers amazing insight into the types of incentives likely to drive purchase from customers shopping at different times of the day, at different locations within a store, and so on.

Yet while the benefits appear obvious, Beacon hype continues to outweigh business value. Use cases to date are limited – some retail marketers have been using beacons to deliver context-based promotional content to smartphone users, but most are failing to use the technology to best advantage.

One issue is that beacons simply deliver another pool of data to retailers already drowning in insight. In the quest to translate vast quantities of data into actionable insight, retailers are rightly gravitating to the low-hanging fruit – easily accessible, interpretable and accurate shopper data sources such as Facebook that they can quickly and efficiently exploit. In contrast, beacons appear expensive and arduous to implement, with time-consuming trial and error required to get the right messages to the right shoppers at the right time.

On a more fundamental level, if a customer doesn’t have the right app or has their Bluetooth switched off, they can’t connect to a beacon. This is a huge limitation; it means that marketers aren’t targeting their most engaged retail customers, but a random selection of users based on arbitrary smartphone usage criteria, giving them offers and incentives that their loyal customers may miss out on.

It is possible that some dedicated retailers may well hone and refine their beacon deployments so that they deliver value in 2016. But for the vast majority of businesses, the technology looks once again to be a non-starter, begging the question of what can realistically be done to better engage customers in-store?

The reality is, there’s a far simpler means of gathering meaningful data about retail customers, as well as marketing to them in-store. The answer is using guest Wi-Fi, which many retailers already offer free of charge to their customers.

It’s possible to take information from existing Wi-Fi access points to determine individual customer locations – even if the customer isn’t logged onto the Wi-Fi at the time – providing valuable insights about footfall and how customers are navigating the store. This information is non-intrusive and informs retailers about customer behaviour rather than spamming store visitors with potentially irrelevant messages.

Customers are often willing to receive promotional messages in return for free Wi-Fi, while the personal information they supply at the login stage can be used to determine the sort of offers and promotions they receive. Furthermore, retailers can tell whether the customer in question has logged onto the Wi-Fi before – implying brand loyalty – and tailor the promotions so that they favour those making repeat visits.

Other benefits include meeting customer needs for store navigation guidance, shopping suggestions and other store information, all of which is relevant to where the customer is located and where they are going. Used creatively, this type of Wi-Fi-enabled location-based service could be a far more viable option for marketing to customers in-store, in real-time, one that causes beacons to fall by the wayside yet again in 2016.

Jeff Abramowitz is President of technology provider Cloud4Wi, which helps brands get more out of their Wi-Fi networks to provide superior on-site mobile experiences and gain valuable insights.

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